Microsoft has developed a voice activated phone assistant feature called Cortana, a direct rival to Apple’s Siri.
The feature has been rumored for some months and a test version was demonstrated by Joe Belfiore, a Windows Phone executive, at Microsoft’s annual developer conference in San Francisco.
The female-voiced Cortana – named after the AI system in the firm’s Halo video game franchise – was unveiled by Windows Phone chief Joe Belfiore at the firm’s Build developers conference in San Francisco.
It will initially be made available in the US, then next the UK and China and finally other markets as part of a wider Windows Phone 8.1 system software update.
Cortana replaces the earlier search function on smartphones running Microsoft’s operating system.
When launched from a pulsating button on the handset’s start screen, it initially offers its own suggestion for the task the owner might want to carry out based on their location and past behaviour.
It can then be asked to do this or instead instructed to find other information, schedule appointments, set reminders or make other apps carry out the person’s command.
If the user allows the software to access their calendar, email, contacts and browsing history the app will try to anticipate their needs.
For instance it can offer to schedule a flight if it spots a message received from a travel booking service, and flag news articles it thinks the user will be interested in.
However, if some of the inferences it makes are wrong the user can enter a “notebook” function to amend the rules it follows.
Belfiore announced that the latest version of Microsoft’s smartphone software, called Windows Phone 8.1, will be rolled out to consumers as a downloadable upgrade in the next few months, and new phones running the software will be in stores by late April or early May.